Sample Chapters of ROAN : Tales of Conor Archer

Prologue

track of an animal or human, even a sliding pebble making its way to the river made its mark, and the place remembered. The southwest corner of Wisconsin and the northwest parcel of Illinois had a memory that stretched back farther than any of the lands in the northern United States. Walter remembered that from geography class oh so many years ago. This part of the earth had never felt the last of the numbing glaciers that crept across the northern states so long ago, wiping out the accumulated landscape of centuries like a stroke flattens the face of its victim.

“Walter, you hear me now,” said the old Indian woman in Walter’s mind. In fact, he could almost hear her voice whispering through the mist. “This land and the waters around it hold secrets, and us poor humans that walk and swim barely know the stories they can tell, or the mysteries they still hide.”

He chuckled for a moment, wistfully, remembering Grandma Swift Deer, last Winnebago Indian in the tri-state area. Yep, thought Walter, she died when he was just eighteen. Sure do remember her, sitting on her porch in Tinker’s Grove, signing postcards of her in her pretty bead worked costume. Man, she looked ancient of days. But she always had an ear to listen and wisdom to dispense.

Why that time she gave him some change to walk across the street to Mike Delahanty’s service station, where the best soda pop in town could be found, she had some choice words for him. She didn’t like him going over there; rather he had gone to the Burke Hotel. She thought it had a better clientele. He didn’t think the same. Just a bunch of old toothless railroad men sipping coffee—Walt the kid felt really out of place there.

Spitting in the river again, he remembered. Couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven, but more than he hated the Burke or loved the service station’s ice cold Coke in bottles, he loved the rattle snakes that Delahanty kept in a wire cage right in the same garage where the cars were fixed. Always had six or seven Timber Rattlers hissing and striking and rattling. Cool stuff. He remembered the mingled smell of oil and gas and musty reptile along with the fear smell of the mice Delahanty had in a cage—lunch for the pets. Used to watch the help throw a mouse in, see it get bit and roll in pain, and then get snarfed down by the biggest rattler. There was the day he reached in and picked up one of the smaller snakes. Whipped out his knife and cut off the rattle. Old Mike never saw. But the snake—why it looked at him with green eyes, if you can believe it, green eyes! And he knew, even at that young age, what the rattler hissed. “Going to get you for that Walter Johnson. Going to get you for that.” Heard the hiss in his heart, and it stayed there, in the dark places of his soul, waiting to haunt his dreams.

Grandma Swift Deer knew something had happened. Maybe she heard him jiggling the rattle across the street in one hand, soda pop in the other. Whatever, her eyes, her piercing black eyes, pinned him and drew him across the street where he sat down, mortified, at her feet on the porch stoop. That’s when she told him one scary, bad ass story. That old lady could tell stories, right? Last of her tribe, she told what the land remembered and told what her ancestors said to her—how an evil manitou formed the Wisconsin River. Its names were

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